In-town cougar sighting leaves residents edgy

Sean C. Morgan

Waiting for his coffee to finish brewing, Eric J. von Ladau was leaning against the frame of the sliding glass door that leads to his backyard on Foothills Drive in Sweet Home when he watched a cougar walking along his fence at about 4:30 a.m. on Sept. 10.

The wind was blowing away from the mountain lion toward him, von Ladau said, so the cougar didn’t notice him.

“I looked at him for a couple of seconds,” von Ladau said. “With all the aggression I had in me, I charged him.”

The cat took off directly away from him into the woods.

Von Ladau’s fence borders the Hobart Nature Preserve, where the cougar was walking.

“I’ve lived here nine years,” von Ladau said. “I know they’re out there.”

He always goes out back when he lets his dog out, he said.

Neighbor Gary Jarvis and von Ladau both said their neighborhood seems to have had cougar sightings more frequently.

Jarvis regularly walks in the neighborhood and Hobart park during the night in hopes of seeing local wildlife, but he isn’t seeing as much as usual this summer. He usually sees a lot more deer along Foothills and in Hobart park. He thinks the cougar has probably scared away the wildlife.

“I’ve heard stories since last spring about a cat jumping the fences,” von Ladau said. He heard another story about a cougar walking in the middle of the street around the intersection of 29th and Juniper streets.

Previously, it had been a few years, perhaps about four, since they remember a large number of cougar sightings in the area, Jarvis and von Ladau said.

“In talking to neighbors, there are at least seven cats that have disappeared in the past month,” Jarvis said. “Additionally, we have not seen the five young raccoons that regularly visit our backyard in two weeks. We have seen mamma, but she is far more skittish than she used to be. When we see her, she does not seem to be alarmed at our presence but spends a lot of time nervously looking in all directions before she ventures out of the storm drain. When she does, she runs to where she is going rather than walking. This leads me to believe that the cougar may be hunting easier prey around the edges and maybe within the neighborhood.”

For the first time in months, Jarvis said, he is seeing deer in the area again. He found an area in his yard last week where a large animal had bedded down. The grass was matted down in a 3- to 4-foot circle.

“I am wondering if a deer used our yard as a ‘safe’ place to sleep late last night or this morning,” Jarvis said. Most of the deer in the neighborhood are familiar with his scent, due to his wandering the neighborhood and talking to them, softly and “are likely far less afraid of me than they are a big cat.”

Von Ladau said he would hate to see people who walk in the area get hurt.

“If (a cougar) is casing the neighborhood, I think the trapper should try to get it,” he said.

Jarvis said he and his wife, Lois, lived around cougars when they lived west of Eugene until four years ago. They would be cautious and make a lot of noise when they were outside. Now that he’s aware of a cougar in the area here, he makes more noise when he’s out walking, and he carries a pointed walking stick, phone and flashlight.

Local resident Sabrina Davis recorded video of a cougar on North River Drive at Lewis Creek Cemetery and uploaded it to Facebook on Sept. 12. In the video, apparently unaware of or ignoring her presence in a vehicle with its headlights on in the dark, the cat slowly walks up from the cemetery onto the roadway.

“I was surprised to see it,” Davis told The New Era. “It walked down out of the trees and hung around for about a minute then started to walk back toward the trees. It didn’t seem to care all that much that I was there.”